— German shepherds named Lily, Oliver, Shilo and Faith
have been in their new homes for less than a month, but
they’ve already made life-altering improvements for
the local veterans with whom they’ve been teamed.
of the dogs sniffs the breath of her sleeping partner,
who has diabetes, and wakes him if she determines that
his blood-sugar levels are too high or too low. Then he
takes his medication.
of the veterans report they are sleeping better because
the dogs ease or even prevent nightmares. The highly
trained dogs prevent daytime panic attacks and
flashbacks. They lessen the anxiety, depression and
hypervigilance that comes with post traumatic stress
disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Some are trained
to help veterans with mobility issues. Many can push a
button to call 911 without a command from their
dog was custom-trained to meet the needs of a specific
human partner by Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs
Inc. in Williston, Fla. The cost for each dog is
$22,000, which includes food, veterinary care and 500 to
2,000 hours of training. Veterans pay nothing for their
dogs. Currently, 150 people nationwide are on a waiting
list for the dogs.
four German shepherds came with their partners Friday to
the Marriott City Center for a refresher training
session with Carol Borden, whose organization since 2009
has trained and placed medical service dogs with 170
people, many of them veterans.
starts when the puppies — bred on the 35-acre Guardian
Angels property — are less than a month old, Ms.Borden
said. Puppy training sessions are designed to be fun and
professional trainers are in the program, which
currently has 80 dogs on the property. Most are German
shepherds because "they mature early, learn
quickly" and love to work, she said.
trainers work with the puppies for a year, teaching
basic obedience and using positive reinforcement —
praise and treats — to build the confidence of the
dogs go into foster homes for eight weeks, where
families get the young dogs accustomed to being out in
public, Borden said.
come back to Guardian Angels for 500 to 2,000 hours of
professional training, which takes one to two years,
depending on the number of skills the dogs need to
says picking the right dog for each veteran "is
more art than science," but there are some
guidelines. A young dog with extremely high energy
levels is generally best suited for a younger veteran,
the final stages of training, veterans go to Florida for
two to three weeks to bond with their dogs and learn how
to handle them. Borden and her staff stay in touch with
the people who get the dogs, and she travels the country
to do refresher courses with the dogs and their
to them in a high-pitched voice and tell them how good
they are. They love that," she said Friday at the
hotel training session for the four vet-dog teams: Lily,
22 months old, and Vietnam Marine veteran Joe McQuade of
Monroeville, Pa.; Faith, 4, and Vietnam Marine veteran
Bill Finnel of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie; Shilo, 6, and
Army veteran Larry Rebar of Homer City, Pa., who served
in Grenada and Iraq; and Oliver, 22 months old, and Iraq
Army veteran Mitchell Baldwin of Harrisburg, Pa.
vets put their dogs through their paces, healing on a
very loose leash and showing off learned skills
including picking up keys and other dropped items and
handing them back to their partner.
dogs, at a total cost of $110,000, have been funded
locally. Three were funded by philanthropists who have
established Pittsburgh Foundation funds: the family of
retired Steelers star Troy Polamalu; Robinson, Pa.,
businessman Scott Noxon; and retired Peters, Pa.,
businessman Joseph Fairbanks, a Navy veteran who works
with organizations that help veterans. The Pittsburgh
Foundation donated $44,000 for the other two.
Accamando of Eighty-Four set up an organization called
Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans to raise
$500,000 for 22 dogs from Guardian Angels Medical
Service Dogs. He also co-founded Veterans Cable
Services, which exclusively hires vets for tech-industry
is the number of veterans who commit suicide each
day," Accamando said. "For veterans who have
received a Guardian Angel dog, the number of suicides is
Changing Service Dogs for Veterans is partnering with
PNC Bank to launch the first annual fundraising Mutt
Strut, which will be held Oct. 1 in Frick Park. A
kickoff breakfast was to be held this morning.
donate, make checks payable to Guardian Angels Medical
Service Dogs and mail to Veterans Cable Services Inc.,
3591 Ridgeway Drive, Bethel Park, PA 15102.